What does an orchestrator do?

An orchestrator is responsible for taking a composer’s musical ideas – often written for piano or guitar - and expanding them to be played by a larger group of musicians – in the case of a Broadway show, anywhere from 6 to 24 musicians – and for a film, from 40 – 100.

What’s the difference between an arranger and an orchestrator?

Technically, an arranger will add his or her musical stamp on a piece of music – in the form of adding an intro or ending, coming up with counter-melodies, or re-conceiving the musical style of the piece – an orchestrator, technically speaking, won’t add anything.

In practice, orchestrators on Broadway - and to an extent in film as well – are also arrangers – we do often add counter-lines and re-conceive the musical style – but no distinction is made.

What are some of your more memorable experiences?

Well, it was fantastic being a part of the musical The Producers – a show like that only comes along every so often - the same goes for the movie Chicago. It was also great to work with singers like Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow – and producers like Arif Mardin and Phil Ramone – recording industry legends.

Have you worked outside of musical theater and film?

Absolutely. I have done song arrangements for recording artists like Beyonce Knowles, Toni Braxton and Mandy Patinkin. I orchestrated two ballets for choreographer Susan Stroman, one for the Martha Graham Dance Company, and the other for the New York City Ballet. And I have written symphonic arrangements for the Hollywood Bowl, the Boston Pops, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras.

I have also worked in the video game industry, creating and adapting music for Mulan (Disney Interactive), and Shadoan (Virtual Image Productions).

Through the course of your orchestration career, have you continued to write your own music?

Yes, I've continued to compose, and it the last couple of years, ever since moving out to Los Angeles, I've been more interested in songwriting and composing. In the last year or two, I've placed three songs in two shows ("Summerland" and "One Life to Live") and one film, The Punisher. I enjoy writing - both songs and scores – and I would love to do more of that.

Do you have your own studio?

Yes – Mighty Music Productions, located in Los Angeles. I have a ProTools HD3 Accel system - I use Logic, Reason and Finale software – and I am set up to sync to video as well. I can create everything from orchestral synth mockups and demos to final tracks.

How did you get your start as an orchestrator?

It might sound strange, but I was aware that there were jobs called "orchestrator" and "arranger" from the time I was in my early teens. I grew up outside of New York City, and my family and I were big fans of musical theater - my parents loved Broadway shows, and would bring myself and my brothers to see shows as kids. At a certain point - I think it was probably the musical A Chorus Line - I noticed that there was music under the singing, and that it was interesting. My ears started to pick out that there were things happening under the singers, and they had a lot to do with the style and the tone of the show. So I really started to explore and investigate what that was, and how you did it.

By the time I was ready to go to college, I was pretty sure I was going to go into the music industry in some way - I was a pianist, and a French horn player, also. I ended up doing a dual program at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester - so I was trained at a conservatory, and I was really fortunate at Eastman to study with a guy named Rayburn Wright. Ray had been the chief arranger at Radio City Music Hall in the 1950s, so we had a lot in common in terms of his experience, and my interest. Ray gave me a very clear understanding of how the music industry worked, what an arranger did, what an orchestrator did, and the mechanics of how you did that job in the industry. Somehow I walked away from Eastman feeling like I really understood how that all worked.

While I was in school, I studied Jazz Arranging, Film Scoring, Orchestration, as well as a conservatory curriculum in Music History and Theory. For a time, I toyed with being a professional horn player - being in conservatory, that's a great place to really explore all those things. But by the time I left college, I knew that I was heading in a direction of musical theater. It was something I loved to do, I had worked semi-professionally as a rehearsal pianist and music director, and I felt like this was something I could do to earn a living, and be in the music industry, and see if I could move forward as a composer or as an arranger.

I got to New York in 1986, and started working as a rehearsal pianist and assistant music director, wrote arrangements for people, played auditions - then in the early 1990s I just had a lucky break - I met Danny Troob, who is a great orchestrator on Broadway, and had done a lot of film work with Alan Menken. Danny and I worked on a project together, and he asked me to help him with some orchestrations. Then an opportunity to do an off-Broadway show for Alan Menken came up, and Danny wasn't available - so he recommended me. My phone rang at 9am one morning, and it was Alan. He said, "Danny says we should meet - grab a demo, and come up to my house." That's how my career as an orchestrator started.

You moved to Los Angeles in late 1990’s - how is it working on Broadway shows from LA?

I commute back and forth - I have a lot of frequent flier miles! It's kind of ironic - I moved to Los Angeles, because I was getting busier doing basically what I do for Broadway, but for film. That was the end of the heyday period of the animated musical - I worked on Mulan and Anastasia long distance, from New York. So I moved out here to catch that wave - and because I was interested in being in LA and living in California - and a year after I came out there, I won my first Tony Award and got very busy in New York.

But in the last couple of years, there's been a resurgence of interest in the Broadway musical on screen. Between Chicago and The Producers, for me it's a very convenient calling card - in terms of doing more work in the film industry. I don't think people in LA know that I'm in LA - they think of me as a New York guy!

Portions of this interview were excerpted from an article on Soundtrack.net written by Dan Goldwasser. To see that entire interview, click here: www.soundtrack.net

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